Case study: Wellington City Council draft long term plan

About the project

In March 2015, the Wellington City Council (the Council) sought public feedback for the city’s Draft Long Term Plan (LTP), a 10-year plan to address issues under the Council’s jurisdiction including budgeting, programs, performance measures, infrastructure developments and council activities. The LTP is reviewed every three years to ensure it remains relevant and effective. Under the Significance and Engagement Policy, Local Councils must engage the community and facilitate the opportunity for citizens to provide feedback about issues in their city.

The Council aimed to achieve transparency in the decision making process, garner support for plans for economic growth, and facilitate an engaging consultation process. Specifically, they aimed to receive support for the creation of an investment fund for the community’s economic growth via increased rates.

Planning for the project began in late 2014 with engagement officially launched in March 2015. The Council invited input into the process through a project website − Our 10-year plan – social media channels, online and offline events.

Engagement objectives

The consultation was designed to demonstrate a transparent planning process open to community input. Instead of reading through the entire consultation document, the Council designed a website to enable Wellingtonians to quickly understand the overall ‘invest to grow’ approach and easily provide feedback and comments on the major ideas proposed.

The 28 big ideas in the draft plan were featured across engagement methods; participants were asked to provide their thoughts, views and comments about the ideas and about each other’s input. Public sentiment around the topics discussed was gauged throughout the consultation process on the project website.

Engagement

Overview

The Council sought feedback from the community in a variety of ways:

The Twitter hashtag #askWCC and the commenting function on Facebook were monitored to gather the public’s views. Facebook and Twitter were also used to invite the community to participate in two Virtual Ward Meetings. In May 2015, oral hearings also took place where individuals were able to present submissions to Council members.

Virtual Ward Meetings

Virtual Ward Meetings were hosted on Facebook and Twitter simultaneously so participants could ask questions about the LTP in real-time directly to Council, Councillors and the executive leadership team. All Twitter posts, Facebook comments and responses from the meeting were shared on the Council’s Storify platform.

The Council received mixed sentiments about different elements of the meetings. Some individuals liked the opportunity to provide feedback from their own home while others felt the meetings could have been better promoted.

Meeting outcomes:

  • Facebook
    • 5,700 people saw a link to the Virtual Ward event in their Facebook feed
    • 294 individual users viewed the Facebook event page for the Virtual Ward Meetings
    • 87 people engaged with the Virtual Ward Meetings event page
  • Twitter
    • 9,800 post impressions were seen in people’s Twitter feeds
    • 233 people engaged with the Council’s tweets.

*Source: ALGIM2015 Virtual Wards Presentation (PDF 2.5MB)

Online engagement

The interactive website was designed to be fully responsive, profile the 28 big ideas and invite the community to share their thoughts.

Comments shared by participants were published in real-time so participants could see their feedback online and discuss and share each other’s ideas.

Dynamic infographic dashboards were also used to collate data and share live summaries so participants could be kept up-to-date on feedback received.

Offline engagement

Offline engagement methods used included face-to-face ward meetings, public meetings, the option to print and mail a submission, and newspaper advertisements. The Council received a significant number of hard copy submission forms, many of which were template responses.

Technology

Forms

  • Typeform was used to collect feedback for integration with Silverstripe, a CMS and framework platform, using custom API development.

Presentation

  • Chart Java Script library was used to show data collected from the Typeform dashboard for public presentation on the website.
  • Google Maps was used to present feedback based on geographic location.

Post-engagement collation

  • CSV outputs and Excel scripts were used for the collection and analysis of data.

Social Media

  • Twitter, Facebook

Content management

  • Storify

Analysis and reporting feedback

After the submission period closed on 24 June, summaries of feedback collected were published on the Council’s website with the final LTP and deliberations report also accessible online.

The Council used CSV outputs and Excel scripts to collect and analyse data received. All content was integrated into one spreadsheet, except for email data, from which emerging themes were noted alongside comments from ward meetings. The criteria used in reporting were demographics, geo-graphics and how the feedback was reported.

Feedback received was overlaid onto the suburb map of Wellington so the sentiment for any idea could be identified in each suburb. This clearly showed bias for local issues relevant to affected communities. For example, participants closest to the airport opposed an extension of the runway.

Outcomes

The approach stimulated discussion and a high rate of participation resulting in more feedback received than ever before.

Participation was measured using web analytics and metrics including:

  • traffic to the website: 12,872 visits from 7, 568 visitors
  • mobile visitors: 20 per cent
  • 2,191 responses
  • time spent on each page and video views
  • form completion rates: over 80 per cent
  • demographics per engagement method: for example, younger audiences used website methods while older audiences were more likely to use the formal feedback form
  • traffic driven to other pages on the Council website
  • positive mentions on various websites and media outlets
  • more than 68 per cent of participants were supportive of Council’s plans.

Incredibly, there was not a single comment or piece of feedback provided that had to be removed. Wellingtonians responded magnificently and maturely to the opportunity to participate, sharing their thoughts with the Council in a constructive manner.

The high rate of engagement benefited the public as well as Councillors and Council officers, many of whom checked the website and reviewed feedback every day. The success of the project also allowed Councillors and Council officers to immediately focus on the most talked-about issues.

The website remains an important source of information for anyone interested in Long-Term Planning and community in Wellington.

Lessons learned

  • It may be more effective to promote a single virtual ward for securing attendance rather than providing multiple options for meeting times.
  • Improving back-end user functionality would have made it easier to collect, organise and analyse the submissions.
  • By publishing ideas and allowing others to comment on them, the Council progressively demonstrated the volume and range of views received and sentiment around them which helped manage expectations and improve the quality of discussion.
  • Combining formal and informal feedback methodologies requires clear communication about how feedback will be used for each method and whether there is different weighting between survey results versus Facebook comments, for example.
  • Creating high-quality video content was time consuming, had little impact on traffic to the consultation site and very few views.
  • Views of video content were tracked during the consultation and a decision was made to add the question “How can we grow Wellington?” on the cover frame which increased the number of people viewing the video.
  • Consider time allowance required for collecting and analysing data from various channels - in this instance, after the closing of submissions it took 3 days to collate all data from the feedback then produce reports for the business teams.
  • Younger participants preferred the online engagement method to the formal submission forms.
  • The Council was able to save money on their printing budget by reducing the number of printed consultation documents.

Observations

  • Thin methods with low barriers to participation increased the volume of feedback received.
  • The well thought-out and user-friendly web interface, combined with an integrated social media strategy made it easy for people to engage and for Council to demonstrate they were listening.
  • Council demonstrated Open Government principles, particularly the principles of transparency and accountability by publishing comments, feedback and deliberation reports, and how they were addressing the issues raised.
  • The LTP engagement process satisfies some of the outcomes as outlined in the Kia Tutahi Relationship Accord, including:
    • “Communities and government jointly review progress and share learning”
    • “Communities and government jointly resolve longstanding matters of concern, such as, participation in decision-making around policy and service delivery issues and funding arrangements
    • “Communities and government are in genuine and purposeful engagement on matters of mutual interest and importance.